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Buying with a Conscience at the International Holiday Crafts Fair

By Judith Scherr
Friday November 30, 2007

The “tap-tap-tap” you hear coming from the shops that line some of the narrow streets in Croix des Bosquets is the sound of artisans pounding nails into metal, crafting the recycled iron mermaids or butterflies that have given the bustling, dusty town, just 15 minutes northeast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, its reputation for metal sculpture, says Jennifer Pantaléon, whose nonprofit, Zanmi Lakay, brings Haitian arts and crafts to buyers in the U.S. 

Haiti is just one of the countries whose crafts will be showcased at the this year’s East Bay Sanctuary’s International Holiday Crafts Fair Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 1 and 2), 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way.  

The fair will feature Kurdish rugs, textiles from Guatemala, and various crafts from cooperatives in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Palestine. 

Pantaléon says that while most of the crafts featured at the fair have not gone through a lengthy and sometimes expensive fair trade certification process, vendors vouch for the fact that the products were made under safe conditions and that the artists have been paid a fair price. 

“The U.N. soldiers [occupying Haiti] haggle—we don’t haggle over the price,” says Pantaléon, whose nonprofit funds job training and education for street children and former street children in Haiti. Pantaléon pointed out that these days there are few tourists in Haiti to buy the artists’ creations.  


Palestinian embroidery 

The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is also hosting an international fair. The event is next Saturday, Dec. 8, noon-6 p.m. at St. John’s Church, 2727 College Ave. and features crafts from Palestine and rugs from Turkey. 

Among the offerings will be embroidered blouses, shawls, bags and wallets from the Women’s Embroidery Collective in the Dheisheh Refugee camp in the West Bank, Deborah Agre, MECA development director, told the Planet. 

“So many men are unemployed—the women use traditional crafts to support their families,” Agre said, adding that MECA has helped to build the structure in which the women work.  

Ceramics, olive oil, and olive oil soap from various parts of Palestine will also be available at the fair. 


KPFA too 

For locals willing to cross the bridge—or BART it—to “the city,” the annual KPFA crafts fair, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dec. 8 and 9, includes numerous fair-trade buying opportunities among the more than 200 juried artists and craftspeople. 

The fair is at the Concourse Exhibition Center at Eighth and Brannan streets. Entry fee is $10 and $6 for seniors and disabled; under 17 are free. Shuttles run from Civic Center BART. 

Jan Etre, event coordinator, says sales by women’s cooperatives in Guatemala, Thailand, India, Napal and Haiti, whose crafts will be available at the fair, helps keep rural populations from migrating to overcrowded cities and keeps the women from having to sustain their families through prostitution. 

Dreams on Looms will be at the fair to showcase place mats, runners and pillowcases from northeast India. They are produced by highly skilled but low-income women weavers earning living wages and “hand-woven on bamboo looms by co-operatives of women belonging to the Bodo, Dimasa and Karbee tribes of Assam, residing in the Brahmaputra valley and nestled in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas,” according to the Dreams on Looms website.  

The KPFA fair also features live local music, including jazz artist Rhonda Benin, who performs at 4 p.m. Saturday. See for the complete lineup. 


St. Joseph the Worker 

For those who want to understand more about the formal fair-trade process and shop for fair-trade goods at the same time, St. Joseph the Worker’s Social Justice Committee is hosting a “Fair Trade Fair” featuring Laurie Lyser of TransFair, who will explain Fair Trade certification and show a short film.  

The event is at 7 p.m., Dec. 7 at St. Joseph the Worker School, 2125 Jefferson Street. The venue is not wheelchair accessible. 

Fair-trade items available for purchase will be Divine Chocolate from TransFair, Palestinian Olive Oil from the Jewish Voice for Peace and coffee from Just Coffee, which calls itself “Coffee with a Conscience.” 

Bill Joyce, of the Social Justice Committee, says that the coffee co-op in Chiapas is able to offer work there, so that workers do not have to immigrate to the U.S. Joyce has visited the processing operation on the Arizona border. “It’s a two-car garage sort of thing,” he said. 


Elephant Pharmacy  

Al Briscoe, director of marketing for Elephant Pharmacy, 1607 Shattuck Ave., says among his favorite fair-trade gift items are colorful finger puppets from Peru—four-inch-tall lions, giraffes, elephants and more made from 100 percent alpaca wool. 

“They’re super soft and have great detail,” he told the Planet. Full-size puppets are also available. They’re marketed by Playful World, which brokers fair-trade agreements with the artisans. 

All officially certified fair-trade items in the store are noted, Briscoe said, adding that they carry some items transitioning to fair trade that are not yet certified. 

Other fair-trade items on the Elephant Pharmacy shelves are silk bags made from recycled saris, chocolate and coffee. 


Global Exchange  

The nonprofit Global Exchange store at 2840 College Ave. specializes in fair trade and carries items from 60 different countries. Assistant manager Marilyn Nebolsky especially likes the bamboo salad bowls from Vietnam. 

The artisans get paid a fair wage and the product is made from bamboo, a sustainable, easily renewable crop, she said. 


Take Nothing Home (but a paper) 

Rev. Douglas Moss of the Hillside Community Church, 1422 Navellier St., El Cerrito invites the public to bring nothing home from the Dec. 1 sale (1-5 p.m.) but a gift certificate showing a purchase of cows, goats, gloves or a night in a shelter. 

“You’ll go home with no stuff in your hands,” Moss told the Planet on Tuesday. Many times gift giving becomes an obligation, but it should be a joy, he said. That’s where the certificate of purchase comes in. 

Instead of buying your grandmother talcum powder, you can spend $11 for milk and snacks for children in the Gaza Strip. Eleven dollars will also buy a rocket stove for use in Haiti—the stove uses half the wood a regular stove would. 

For $5,000 you can purchase two cows, two sheep, two oxen and two water buffalo destined for people in various countries around the globe. 

There will also be gifts to address local needs. One can purchase a night at YEAH, a youth shelter in Berkeley, or gloves for Friends of Five Creeks, which maintains local waterways. 

“It’s a way to do something and feel really good about it,” Moss said.